Arts Creativity

A window through popularity

Popularity rarely equates to quality, particularly when it relates to art that’s abundant like books, music, and paintings.

It’s impossible to sift through catalogs of content and proclaim one piece better than the other. Popularity is often the result of mass marketing.

Budgets dictate following. A bank-backed Universal Studios will always create more awareness than a small independent studio for new releases. Warner Music gets its roster featured on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and radio with some paid dollars. Meanwhile, the best a bedroom musician can hope for is a feature on Soundcloud.

Popularity is bunk, especially in the age of algorithms that recommend playlists based on paid (non-organic) buzz.

Some things are only unpopular because they’re unknown, not for a lack of quality.

Art necessitates discovery. It calls for human curation, not an algorithmic machine. Thankfully, the Internet has a long-tail.

Niches create tribes which expose artists to the rest of the Internet. This is how small artists with zero budgets build up a rabid fan base to compete against mainstream artists.

The reality is that most work remains unknown. For the curator, that’s the best part. The hunt to find that needle in the hey makes collecting artifacts more personal, i.e. pleasurable.

Being the purple cow in today’s age seems to be the only right way to go. The last thing an artist wants to happen is fame following by predictability. Art is a persistent stimuli.

Uniqueness is how writers, actors, painters, and musicians get discovered in the first place.

“I have the vanity of an artist, I want my work to be seen, but I don’t have to be seen.”

David Hockney

Scaling happens to the craft. The making is really all that matters.

Culture Politics & Society Social Media

How status and likability affect your health 

Popular people live longer.

As social animals, the number of friends predetermines our well-being and lifespan. The gregarious live long than loners.

But life hinges on authenticity — it is not a popularity contest.

The number of people we know means nothing if there’s zero reciprocation. The other person(s) have to like us back. There’s a real benefit to solid relationships.

Think back to high school: were you amiable to a few trusted friends or sworn to attention?

The same question applies to our behavior online. It’s rare to have both status — millions of followers — and likability. The difference between the two is subtle.

Explains Mitch Prinstein, UNC psychology professor and author of the book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World:

“Likability is markedly different from status — an ultimately less satisfying form of popularity that reflects visibility, influence, power, and prestige. Status can be quantified by social media followers; likability cannot.”

Mitch Prinstein

If we’re looking for happiness in the credibility of numbers, social media is the wrong game to play. Happiness links to likeability, not our number of followers.

It pays to be both well-known and well-liked if we want to extend our lives. So how do we start? For one, we can be kind to others, remembering their name, and seek a thread of commonality.

gif via Tony Babel

Culture Tech

Before the popular rise

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Some people enjoy the process of discovery. They have access to niche communities and discrete resources, tending to “get it” before everyone else.

These people are also the incubators of trends, filtering the good from the bad before deciding what goes mainstream. Naturally, they lose interest as soon as something or someone like an artist becomes a commercial sensation.

But the internet flips the trendsetters on their heads. It connects a mass of niches and then builds on top of their ideas. Take a walk around New York–hipsters are a cohort that share similar interests and look the same.

There will always be an exception; the authentic curator enjoys digging the abstract art before saying a word to anyone else. But what’s also cool is to educate and share artifacts. If few are interested in uniqueness, let it be.

Popularity is rarely a barometer of what matters.

gif by @linski101

Creativity Culture

The unclassifiable

When we stop becoming someone for everyone, we start to find the right people instead.

That’s not to say we want to remain unknown or unclassifiable. One can still ride the wave of uniqueness and make a big splash.

Do you think Radiohead cares about the pop charts? The band thrives at the fringes, showing fans where sound could be headed, not where it’s been.

People love Apple because they make instruments for creativity you never knew you’d need. It also gives its customers, the curators and creators, all the spotlight.

We don’t have to dumb down our work for the masses when we can make more interesting things for the micro. Wider adoption, should it happen, happens to the ideas worth spreading.

Culture Photography

‘It doesn’t scale’

Photo by Wells Baum

If everything was mass-producible, there wouldn’t be any reason to march to the beat of a different drum.

It’s hard to stand small in the urge of mainstream’s BIG success.

Given a choice, people would prefer to be liked by everybody. Like a magnet, fame attracts money.

But most of the time we don’t have any other option but to scale to a micro market.

Just because it doesn’t scale — whatever ‘it’ is (a business, an idea, etc.) doesn’t mean it’s not special. Size can ruin things.

Remember the tenet: What matters isn’t always popular.

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gif by Wells Baum


Let the Bubble Burst

Stocks burst. Music genres come and go. Politicians disappoint. Every movement has a conformity crisis where everyone wants to join in and emulate the hottest trend. But a bubble can only get so big and crowded before it bursts.

The good news about a pop is that it forces people to see the bigger picture again. Plus, the pioneers are already working on the next big thing to throw at the masses. They kickstart a movement and get out as soon as it becomes mainstream.

Only a few people, things, and ideas get big enough to pop. But nothing really new emerges to replace them. Bubbles grow, pop, fade out, transform, and rise again.


Once artists start asking how many “likes” they’ve garnered, they’re no longer making art; they’re moving product.

Mark Slouka

(via Karim)


That Hit Song You Love Was a Total Fluke

Think about it like this: independent decisions give you more information than interdependent decisions. You can look at the success of Gangnam Style, and it seems like people are making a decision to watch the video. But those decisions aren’t independent – they’re interdependent. People are watching because other people are watching, not because it’s necessarily a great song (although it may be).

Within an organization, that means that individuals should be assessing the quality of an idea or product independently -– at least initially. After that, a team can come to a consensus. If you all sit in a room together initially, though, you’re going to lose information because of the effects of social influence.

Ignore the wisdom of crowds and develop your own opinion first.


Commercial is seen as a dirty word in the creative world, but to make things happen, you have to understand business.

Faye Toogood

Late Discoveries


“Once you make the New York Times the whole world news about it.”

As much information there is on the Internet, we can’t know everything.

The world is full of interesting places, people, and things that go undiscovered until a big publication like the NYTimes exposes them.

Most people wait to be told about new stuff only to complain when they experience it. It’s “too busy, overcrowded,” they say.

The masses follow the masses out of mimetic desire. If you want to make the first discovery, you have to be proactive about searching.

We can’t know everything. But we don’t need to lean on mass curation either.